“Well, I’m very glad that you’re going to stand on your own, because you’ll have to. I’m going to leave you now—leave you for longer, far longer than I’ve ever left you before.”
“Yes. I shan’t always be with you; indeed, later on you won’t want me. Then you’ll forget me, and at last you won’t even believe that I ever existed—until, at the end of it all, I come to take you away. Then it will all come back to you.”
“Oh, but that’s absurd!” Ernest Henry said confidently. Nevertheless, in his heart he knew that, during the day-time, other things did more and more compel his attention. There were long stretches during the day-time now when he forgot his friend.
“After your second birthday I always leave you more to yourselves. I shall go now for quite a time, and you’ll see that when the old feeling comes, and you know that I’m coming back, you’ll be quite startled and surprised that you’d got on so well without me. Of course, some of you want me more than others do, and with some of you I stay quite late in life. There are one or two I never leave at all. But you’re not like that; you’ll get on quite well without me.”
“Oh, no, I shan’t,” said Ernest Henry, and he clung very tightly and was most affectionate. But he suddenly put his fingers to his bump, felt the butter, and his chin shot up with self-satisfaction.
“To-morrow I’ll get ever so much farther,” he said.
“You’ll behave, and not mind the beasts or the creatures?” his friend said. “You must remember that it’s not the slightest use to call for me. You’re on your own. Think of me, though. Don’t forget me altogether. And don’t forget all the other world in your new discoveries. Look out of the window sometimes. That will remind you more than anything.”
He had kissed him, had put his hand for a moment on Ernest Henry’s curls, and was gone. Ernest Henry, his thumb in his mouth, was fast asleep.
Suddenly, with a wild, agonising clutch at the heart, he was awake. He was up in bed, his hands, clammy and hot, pressed together, his eyes staring, his mouth dry. The yellow night-light was there, the bars of gold upon the walls, the cool, grey shadows, the white square of the window; but there, surely, also, were the beasts. He knew that they were there—one crouching right away there in the shadow, all black, damp; one crawling, blacker and damper, across the floor; one—yes, beyond question—one, the blackest and cruellest of them all, there beneath the bed. The bed seemed to heave, the room flamed with terror. He thought of his friend; on other nights he had invoked him, and instantly there had been assurance and comfort. Now that was of no avail; his friend would not come. He was utterly alone. Panic drove him; he thought that there, on the farther side of the bed, claws and a black arm appeared. He screamed and screamed and screamed.